Thoughts on BBC NEWS | Facebook banned for council staff

Now this is a very interesting story, not just because another council has banned access to a social networking site, but because the lack of tackling the real issues.

A council is to ban Facebook on its computers after it was revealed staff spent on average 400 hours on the site every month.

Portsmouth City Council said it had decided to change its policy and block access to the social networking site.

It added the figures equated to each of its 4,500 staff, who have access to computers, spending between five and six minutes a month on the site.

via BBC NEWS | England | Hampshire | Facebook banned for council staff.

The headlines in many of today’s newspapers are interesting but in fact that are inaccurate and do not truly represent the real issues around “waste” in councils.

Now i am in full support of eradicating waste in business and in processes, but this is not a good way to go about it and in fact reduces the opportunities that could be realised by council by using such sites for communications and engagement activities.

What i would suggest the headlines should read which would truly represent the real factor behind this story is:

Lack of Management in Council leads to 400 hours a month being wasted

Now I get really annoyed and frustrated when i see councils make decisions like this because the real thing to concentrate on is the lack of management is that leading to this amount of time being wasted.

Why are we not focusing on the poor management practices or lack of performance management instead of the 5-6 minutes per employee per month on facebook.

It is easy for councils to focus and even target sites like facebook because they can monitor and measure usage through the corporate networks (unless of course people are accessing on their mobiles or via wifi connections)

BUT what about the other activities that could be classified as “waste” that we are not focusing on for example: phone calls, chatting with friends, emailing friends and colleagues plus many more including smoking.

It is quite sad that people are focusing on the technology when that is not the problem, just like technology itself can not solve business problems. What needs to happen here when these kind of decisions are made is to ask the question “What are we really trying to stop?” Is it time wasting? or is it access to social networks that councils don’t on the whole understand? i would suggest the latter.

There is a huge opportunity to promote such networks, in fact i am a member of a government funded and supported social network (IDeA Community of Practice) so i would ask what fundamentally is the difference between the two platforms from a technology point of view? How much council officer time is taken up accessing the community of practice and would this also be classified as “waste”? I feel that being part of that community saves me time in accessing information and research from other council staff and stops me emailing them or phoning them for the same information. This is what social networks can facilitate – information and knowledge exchange.

Now i’m not promoting facebook as such, but this is a decision which allows councils to make further blocks and banning orders easier unless they start to truly understand what is happening in online spaces where communities are alive and thriving and councils need to be connected if they want to understand the needs of local people in designing services. Would we consider a member of staff visiting a village hall and listening to community issues and communicating with them about council services a “waste” of time or would that be considered community engagement? If so then why ban access to social networking sites…

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6 Replies to “Thoughts on BBC NEWS | Facebook banned for council staff”

  1. I’m not convinced that the amount of time being reported as spent on Facebook by local authority staff is accurate.

    I am assuming they pulling dwell time on Facebook pages off the server logs. I’m guessing that, in the same way that Outlook is left open from the start to the end of the working day, that most Facebook users will leave their Facebook window open thoughout the day whilst working at other tasks.

  2. Some great points here Carl, especially the comparison with going to a village hall to listen to the community. Not a waste of time at all, and in fact our responsibility and duty to engage with our citizens, wherever they are and via whichever medium they prefer.

    Of course some will abuse it and waste time, but that is about management and policy, not technology. And as you say, people will always find ways to waste their time if allowed to do so.

    Now that Portsmouth has implemented a system of having to request that access be granted (just as in my organisation) I would be interested to see how the figures compare in a month or two. I bet a significant amount of legitimate use will continue to be observed, and if not, then they may really have a problem on their hands.

  3. Great post, Carl. I absolutely agree a central ban overlooks the key issue of performance management.

    Councils and other organisations have had this debate many times over the years abut allowing access to the phone, email, or the internet. And in all of those cases it’s up to managers to manage their staff.

    Centrally-imposed bans simply prevent people from engaging with the community. I’d also argue it impacts negatively on employee engagement – indeed, your post inspired me to write a blog post about it.

  4. Carl, great post and I agree that social networking is not the issue its the management of the staff that is the key issue.

    I have just come across this which maybe of interest SOCIAL MEDIA: EMBRACING THE OPPORTUNITIES, AVERTING THE RISKS http://www.russellherder.com/SocialMediaResearch/

    Which has some interesting thoughts.

    On a side note I’m working on a research project with Henley to look at the use of social networking sites and how it affects knowledge sharing and creation at work. I’ll let people know once the research has been concluded.

    As you mentioned, maybe facebook is not the best example but there are sites out there that are really helping people do thier job, rather than duplicating effort.

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